Quick Takes

Senator says bill will address Kentucky’s housing needs; it’s just not written yet

By: - February 24, 2023 4:43 pm

Natural disasters on both ends of Kentucky have increased the demand for affordable housing and rents. In this aerial view, floodwater surrounds a house in Breathitt County in July. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — State Sen. Brandon Smith is working on legislation that would address a growing housing crisis in Eastern Kentucky following last summer’s devastating floods.

Colleagues of Smith, R-Hazard, filed a shell bill, Senate Bill 286, amid the Senate’s deadline for new bills earlier this week and Smith’s absence. After becoming the primary sponsor Wednesday, Smith said the legislation could include some measures proposed by housing advocates. It’s currently titled “AN ACT relating to the East Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies fund.”

During the special session last year, Smith filed a floor amendment to a flood relief package that would add $50 million for housing assistance but it failed to pass. This session, he was waiting to see what else might be proposed.

“I know a lot of other people have been talking about it, so I kind of stepped back to see some ideas, and I just didn’t see what I was looking for,” he said.

The senator said he did see some promise in a proposal called AHEART, or the Affordable Housing Emergency Action Recovery Trust Fund. A coalition of housing nonprofits and advocates of the proposal are calling on the General Assembly to invest $150 million in this session and another $150 million in 2024 to support replacing and repairing housing damaged by natural disasters.

Smith said he sees issues with just looking at building homes out of the flood zone, as parts of Eastern Kentucky flooded for the first time last summer. He questioned if there is enough high ground to go around. For this session, $150 million in funding is a feasible number, he said.

People in these communities are waiting on a solution, Smith said.

“’I’ve got people that they’ve already had to move them out of the hotels and moved them out of the (state) parks. They’re on couches. They’ve got kids that are trying to go to school and they’re waiting because they don’t want to leave.”

Almost seven months ago, flood waters ravaged Kentucky’s Appalachian region. At least 44 people have died from the flood. According to an analysis released Tuesday from the Ohio River Valley Institute and Appalachian Citizens Law Center citing data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8,950 homes were damaged, including 542 homes that were destroyed and more than 4,500 homes that sustained major damage.

Earlier this week, residents from Eastern Kentucky and housing advocates, including supporters of AHEART rallied at the State Capitol to make a plea for a solution.

“Just take a ride through Letcher County, as well as other counties that flooded, you’ll see there’s a lot of need there,” said Arnold Weaver, whose family thought they would have to leave Kentucky until the nonprofit HOMES Inc. helped arrange to build them a new house on higher ground.

Senate President Robert Stivers has also filed shell bills earlier this week, one of which relates to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. On Tuesday, Stivers said he was meeting with several people interested in housing.

Shell bills are pieces of legislation that can be amended after a chamber’s filing deadline.

Liam Niemeyer contributed to this report.

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.